High cliffs, steep drop-offs, short runways, curved finals. Air travelers know about many inherently dangerous airports around the world due to their configurations, and we flight simmers can test those airports with 100-percent safety.
Courchevel (LFLJ) is a 1,756-foot (536-meter) strip 6,420 feet (1,958 meters) in the ski areas of the French Alps. This unique airport has one numbered runway (05). The other end isn’t numbered because it isn’t useable. Its elevation gradient is 18.5 percent, which is a steep hill for walking much less landing an aircraft. They land uphill to stop within this short runway, and they take off downhill to gain enough airspeed for flight. Photos are readily available on the Internet, and a video shows a Beechcraft Baron landing there. It is ranked among the world’s most dangerous airports by the History Channel, and it was featured in the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies. Try this airport in the Baron 58, even though the facility isn’t accurately depicted in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Lukla (VNLK) is a similar airport 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) up the Himalayas in Nepal. There’s a mountain slope on one end and a 3,050-foot (930-meter) drop on the other. The runway has a 12-percent elevation gradient. At this elevation, aircraft don’t enjoy full power for taking off from this 1,616-foot (493-meter) runway. Five aircraft have crashed there since 1991, the most recent a Dornier 228 in 2010. Try this in the Beechcraft Super King Air.
A 500-foot (153-meter) hill lies in the approach area of Runway 10 at Saint Barthelemy Airport (TFFJ) on the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean Sea. Aircraft come in steeply or at a right angle and make a 90-degree turn just before final approach. Aircraft that come in too steeply risk overrunning this 2,133-foot (651-meter) runway and sliding into the beach, which is just beyond the runway. Beachgoers are advised by signs to avoid low-flying aircraft, but some defy the risk just for the thrill. This airport is not depicted accurately in MSFS, as it does not show the beach beyond Runway 28, which is clearly seen in numerous photos on the Internet. Try landing on Runway 10 in the Beechcraft Baron 58 or even the Super King Air.
The 6,830-foot (2,083-meter) runway at Toncontin (MHTG), Honduras, has a steep hill below the end of Runway 1. Fatal crashes have occurred after jetliners overshot the runway and plummeted into a busy urban area, killing people in the aircraft and in their cars. A YouTube video shows what appears to be a Boeing 757 approaching and landing in there in a crosswind, and it appears to skim the trees on the hill in the final approach area. The History Channel ranks it the second most dangerous airport in the world. Nine crashes are reported there since 1962, according to the Aviation Safety Network, the most recent being an Airbus A320 in May 2008. Several autogenerated buildings are unrealistically depicted by FSX in the final approach area for Runway 19. Try Runway 01 in a 757.
Aspen Pitkin County Airport (KASE) serves ski resorts 7,680 feet (2,342 meters) up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Its 7,006-foot (2,135-meter) runway has a 400-foot (122-meter) drop at one end and a 9,400-foot (2,745-meter) mountain at the other end. The approach to Runway 33 is over that mountain, which risks a too-steep approach and erratic winds swirling around the mountain. The approach to Runway 15 can mislead pilots because a road is almost perfectly aligned with the runway centerline, and there’s a 400-foot-deep (122-meter) river gorge below. Erratic winds swirl around this airport because of many surrounding peaks and gorges. Five crashes have occurred there since 1970. A Gulfstream business jet crashed on approach to Runway 15 with 18 fatalities in 2001. Try both runways in a Learjet and a 737 or A320.
A 2,400-foot (732-meter) mountain rises just beyond Runway 20 at Tioman Airport (WMBT) on the Malaysian island of the same name. It’s not as bad in FSX as the real-world photos show, wherein the runway seems to start at the mountain’s base.
The risky reputation of Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (TNCS) on the Caribbean island of Saba in the Netherland Antilles does not match its safety record. Although its 1,300-foot (397-meter) runway is flanked on one side by high hills and sharp drop-offs on the other three sides, no accidents have occurred there according to Wikipedia. It is said to have the world’s shortest commercially used runway. The largest aircraft that use this airport are de Havilland Twin Otters and Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders for the Winair regional airline. The runways are marked with Xs because air operations are allowed only with specific waivers from aviation authorities.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (KDCA) has two tricky approaches. Jetliners as large as 757s approach Runway 18 by following the Potomac River for noise minimization. That procedure requires turning left and right several times, including a right turn just before short final. Another unusual approach here is Runway 33, although not used as often as 18/36. Aircraft as large as 737s fly northward up the Potomac River, then turn left just before short final. I’ve seen both approaches from the ground and from inside the landing aircraft. Either way, they’re dazzling and sometimes outright scary. Try these in airliners such as the Canadair Regional Jet, the Airbus A320, and the Boeing 757.
London City Airport isn’t among any lists of dangerous airports, but three crashes have occurred there since 2001. Commercial airliners take off and land on its 4,948-foot (1,508-meter) runway. Tall buildings rise just west of the runway and even closer to the runway centerline. This must be a significant challenge in a crosswind.
A unique runway is found at Madeira (LPMA) on the small Portuguese island of the same name. Two crashes in 1977 instigated an extension of its original 5,249-foot (1,601-meter) runway. It was extended to 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) between 1982 and 1985 by building a viaduct at one end, and it was extended again in 2000 to 9,125 feet (2,793 meters). The History Channel ranks it the ninth most dangerous in the world. What makes a 9,125-foot runway on a viaduct dangerous mystifies me. It’s just unique. Indeed, I found no records of crashes here since 1977. The full runway length is depicted in FSX, but not the viaduct extension. Photos abound on the Internet.
Barra Airport (EGPR) on the Outer Hebrides islands in Scotland is literally on a sandy beach that is useable only during low tide. Underwater whenever the tide comes in, its three runways are marked by wood poles stuck in the sand. Locals are advised by signs to stay off the beach while the airport is active. Taking off or landing on a sandy beach in a wheeled aircraft must be a daunting experience. What would happen if any wheel sank in the wet sand during a take-off or landing roll at 50 knots or so? We can’t enjoy this sandy experience in the flight simulator, but using a beach for a regular runway is definitely unique.
Another unusual airport is Princess Juliana International (TNCM) on the Caribbean island of Saint Maarten. Boeing 747s and MD-11s are among the commercial aircraft that land and take-off from this 7,150-foot (2,181-meter) runway, with the airport fence a few feet from the runway and the beach just outside the fence. Numerous photos of low-flying jumbo jets are posted on the Internet, replete with beach bathers standing just below these behemoths. A 1,000-foot (305-meter) mountain stands beyond Runway 27. Try this airport in the Boeing 747 for a real thrill.
The 6,187-foot (1,887-meter) runway at Gibraltar Airbase (LXGB) has water at either end, and it crosses a four-lane highway (or vice versa), which is the only way for vehicle traffic to reach the world-famous Rock of Gibraltar south of the airport. Officials stop vehicle traffic temporarily, much as is done for maritime draw bridges, and the aircraft take off and land. Then the runway is closed, and the road is reopened. This road is not shown in FSX.
There are many lists of dangerous airports around the world. Some have seven most dangerous, the 10 most dangerous, the 13 most dangerous, and so forth. Most lists repeat the same places, and some airports make the lists not because they’re dangerous but because they’re scary. Some airports that seem dangerous are safer than average, and some that we take for granted have higher than average official incidents.
The Internet also offers many pictures and videos of these airports. We can’t publish them because of copyrights, but the conditions are evident in my FSX screen shots.
World’s Most Dangerous Airports: http://www.oddee.com/item_93109.aspx
Aviation Safety Network: http://aviation-safety.net/index.php
by Bill Stack